Commentary: Blacks Want Improved Mental-Health Services in California

A new report says many African-Americans in the Golden State feel their mental-health concerns are going unaddressed.

Posted: 07/17/2012 06:24 PM EDT
Blacks say mental health services are inadequate and unhelpful.

Mental-health woes in the African-American community are a tricky thing. On the one hand, besides the general mental problems people of all races suffer, studies show that some Blacks end up afflicted with emotional stresses from perceived racism, thus adding to their issues. On the other, mental health is a taboo subject in many pockets of the Black community, forcing many African-Americans to struggle silently with very serious bouts of depression, rage and even suicidal thoughts. Thankfully, a new study in California suggests that at least some Black Americans are starting to take their mental health seriously.

According to a state-commissioned report on mental and emotional health within California’s Black community, a significant number of African-Americans believe that their mental health services are inadequate and unhelpful.

“People felt like they did not have a good assessment to understand what their particular issues are,” V. Diane Woods, president of the African American Health Institute of San Bernardino County, told Bernice Yeung at the Huffington Post. “And if you are not getting a good assessment, you are not getting a good plan or care, and it increases the probability that you will be placed on the wrong medication.”

When Woods discusses Blacks “not getting a good assessment,” what she’s referencing is the fact that, in the past, African-Americans have been misdiagnosed with schizophrenia while also getting under-diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. Experts believe this shoddy diagnosing is due to cultural ignorance within the largely white mental-health industry.

“Expressing ‘healthy paranoia,’ regarded as a survival skill among African-Americans, may prompt an uninformed clinician unfamiliar with African-American culture to consider this as a symptom of schizophrenia or psychosis,” said Annelle Primm, the director of the American Psychiatric Association’s Office of Minority and National Affairs.

That an increasing number of professionals are looking into the mental-health care Blacks are getting is great news. But even better news in the report is evidence that Blacks themselves are taking charge of their mental health and admitting that, in some cases, they need help they aren’t getting.

“Black people across the state wanted the population report to 'tell the entire story' so others could understand the lived experiences with and related to mental health issues,” said Woods.

Anyone with the guts to stand up and say they need help with their mental health should be commended, but especially those people who fight against taboos in the Black community. Now let’s hope California and society at large can find a way to answer their pleas before it’s too late for some of them.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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